When people talk about dog obedience training, they usually think about making a dog follow commands. To me, dog obedience training is not truly about commands, but rather it is about how to live well with our dogs.
Living well is not about training-terms and making catchy Sphinx-like statements such as “dogs are not human“. It is true that dogs are not human, but that seems rather obvious. What does this really tell me about living well with my dogs?
When I first started learning about dog training, the best advice I got was practical, easy to understand, and free of Sphinx prose. In fact, some of the best dog training tips I learned were not from so-called experts, but from a movie about how to reach our full potential, and how to live a good life – Kung Fu Panda.
This movie will give you a lot of laughs, entertainment, some very wise sayings, and many valuable life lessons. Some of these life lessons are key in building a strong bond with your dog, and training him to become a happy, well-adjusted canine.
There is no charge for awesomeness… or attractiveness.
~~ [ Po, the Kung Fu Panda ]
Here are five important lessons of panda kung fu applied to dog training.
Zen Dog Training Tip 1
Dog Obedience Training
A Dragon Warrior Never Gives Up.
You’ll never be the Dragon Warrior, unless you lose 500 pounds and brush your teeth!
~~ [ Po, the Kung Fu Panda ]
Living with a dog can sometimes be very challenging, painful, and emotionally draining. However difficult it becomes, do not give up on your dog.
If the dog training techniques we use are not working well, then we can do more research and try something else. The next thing that we try, may be the thing that works!
In my experience, the dog training process, similarly to the new roommate process, is usually difficult at the start. Both me and my dog are testing each other out, and getting a feeling for each others’ tolerances and limits.
Dogs, perhaps even more so than us, are very opportunistic by nature and will take advantage of us if we let them. Therefore, it is important to set some rules, boundaries, and a fixed routine for our dog. This will make the initial getting to know you phase a lot easier and less stressful for everyone.
Try to fix problems as soon as they arise rather than waiting until they escalate and become big problems.
If we have serious aggression issues with our dog, it is probably best to get a professional trainer to come to the house and observe our dog. This is the best way to identify the source of the aggression and develop solutions.
Giving up on an aggressive dog is pretty much choosing euthanasia for him.
Dog shelters and adoption agencies are already filled with many well-behaved strays that an aggressive dog will have no chance of adoption.
Consider carefully before getting a dog. A dog will be a lot of work, a financial drain, and a time drain for about 10-15 years.
Zen Dog Training Tip 2
A peach tree will always be a peach tree.
Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.
~~ [ Oogway from Kung Fu Panda ]
Do not force a dog to become something that he is not.
Some people want/think they should have full control over their dog. That is neither necessary, nor healthy.
Let our dog be the dog that he was born to be. Just redirect his energies towards positive tasks and behaviors.
Many of us have an unrealistic view of what a dog should be – Lassie. All dogs are not Lassie. In fact, even Lassie was played by several different dog doubles.
My first dog was a Shiba Inu, and Shibas are very definitely not Lassies. I tried forcing my Shiba to become a Lassie with collar corrections, alpha rolls, and other types of physical techniques. The results were bad for everyone.
It did not matter how many times I rolled him over and growled at him, he was still a Shiba and not a Lassie. In fact, he frequently used his teeth to let us know that he did not appreciate being compared to a Lassie.
Do not try to change the nature of a dog with physical force, instead use the dog’s nature to motivate him and redirect him into positive action.
What ultimately worked very well for me, was to carefully observe my Shiba and understand his nature. I saw that he valued his freedom above all else, I saw that he liked to chase and wrestle, I saw that he did not trust easily, I saw that he was wary of people touching him, I saw that he did not like submitting to other dogs.
Instead of doing leash jerks, I motivate him through the control of resources and access to new locations. Instead of hitting or spanking him for chewing on my shoes, I help him drain energy through structured chasing games, and redirect him onto interesting chew toys. Instead of forcing him to trust me, I try to gain his trust by fulfilling his needs, and protecting him from stressful encounters.
Once I stopped using physical force, my dog’s behavior and my relationship with him improved significantly. He became happier, I became happier, and we both had plenty of peaches to eat.
Zen Dog Training Tip 3
Pride is not a virtue.
From the first moment I’ve been proud of you. And it was my pride that blinded me. I loved you too much to see what you were becoming, what I turned you into. I’m… I’m sorry.
~~[ Shifu from Kung Fu Panda ]
Do not be blinded by pride.
Certainly we should be proud of our dog’s achievements, but it is also important to recognize his weaknesses.
In this excellent article Know Thyself, Know Thine Dog, Know Thine Enemies by kblover, he suggests creating a strength and weakness profile for both you and your dog. I think this is a great and very fun idea!
Let us start right now and list 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses for our dog.
My Shiba Inu’s strengths–
- He is brave and loves to examine and explore new objects and environments.
- He is not possessive and is willing to give up toys, food, and resources to people and dogs.
- He is very creative and persistent. If he cannot get to what he wants one way, he will try another way – especially when my back is turned.
My Shiba Inu’s weaknesses–
- He can very easily lose his mind, and start acting based on instinct.
- He is a stress cadet and does not like changes in his regular routine.
- He is very stubborn. If he really does not want to do something, he will fight you tooth and nail.
I find that I make the best decisions for my dog when I am objective about him, and the dog training methods that I use. I try to keep an open mind, and look for new ways to improve my dog’s quality of life and our relationship.
Do not resist listening to others and assimilating new dog training information because of pride.
Zen Dog Training Tip 4
Even Dragon Warriors Need to Eat.
Tigress–It is said that the Dragon Warrior can go for months without eating, surviving on the dew of a single ginko leaf and the energy of the universe.
Po–Then I guess my body doesn’t know I’m the Dragon Warrior yet. It’s gonna take a lot more than dew, and, uh, universe juice.
~~[ Excerpt from Kung Fu Panda ]
Dogs need a healthy and balanced diet.
In general, a dog will eat more than he needs because in the wild, that is the best way to ensure survival. This often leads to obesity in a domestic dog, which can shorten his lifespan and cause a variety of health issues.
Therefore, it is important not to overfeed our dog.
I know, it can be difficult to resist our rascally beggar, or lie-at-our-feet furry friend; especially when he uses those big, round eyes to full effect. When I want to express my dog-love through treats, I also reduce his regular meal by an equivalent amount.
I also take my dog for yearly vet examinations, vaccine shots, and teeth cleaning.
Zen Dog Training Tip 5
The Secret Ingredient is Nothing!
Po–Wait, wait… it’s just plain old noodle soup? You don’t add some kind of special sauce or something?
Mr. Ping–Don’t have to. To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.
Po–There is no secret ingredient.
~~[ Excerpt from Kung Fu Panda ]
When I first got my Shiba Inu, I had a lot of troubles with him. He was starting to get aggressive with me, and at home, he was getting into all sorts of trouble practically every minute of every day.
My vet advised me to return him on our first visit, when Shiba was only 10 weeks old.
I considered it – but a Dragon Warrior never gives up right?
At that point, I was really quite desperate and was looking for any available miracle cure. But there really is no secret ingredient.
To make things special between me and my dog, I only needed to work hard at building a good relationship. After I put in the time and effort to understand my dog, and properly communicate with him, our relationship got better and better.
No special collar, dog behavior medication, or expensive toy will magically fix our dog.
All we need for success is to believe in our dog, and do the work that it takes to establish a strong and lasting bond.
Quit, don’t quit? Noodles, don’t noodles? You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present’.
~~[ Oogway from Kung Fu Panda ]